Prussia 1701-1795 Spain and the
Fr. Revolution
Aust. Netherlands
Dutch Republic
Britain 1789-1815
Foreign Policy

The First War of the Coalition, 1792-1797

A.) The Diplomatic Pre-History of the War

Austria and Prussia were worried about the ongoing French Revolution, as the revolutionaries' agenda rightfully was seen as a threat to the old order in Europe. If the revolution could be suppressed in France, governments elsewhere could feel more secure. As the French Queen MARIE ANTOINETTE was a sister of the Emperor, Austria had an additional motive to interfere. As the numbers of French EMIGRES in Germany was considerable, men who had fled the revolution and were willing to fight it, and as a considerable segment of the French population was ROYALIST, the coalition powers felt encouraged in their intervention policy.
The First Coalition consisted mainly of AUSTRIA and PRUSSIA; minor allies included SAVOY, and a number of smaller German states. BRITAIN joined when Louis XVI. was executed (Jan. 1793), Spain in March 1793. France declared war on the DUTCH REPUBLIC March 1st. RUSSIA joined.
The Dutch Republic signed the TREATY OF THE HAGUE 1794 April 19th (it was conquered in 1795 and transformed into the BATAVIAN REPUBLIC). Prussia signed the PEACE OF BASEL on April 5th 1795, thus leaving the coalition; Spain had signed a peace on April 22nd 1795. Piedmont quit the war in May 1796.

B.) The Military Course of Events

First phase : Invasion of an Anglo-Prussian force, 80,000 strong, under the command of the Duke of Brunswick. It is stopped in the CANONADE OF VALMY (Sept. 20th 1792), where the French artillery inflicted heavy losses on the allies, who withdrew.
Second Phase : Belgium. French forces defeated the Austrians in the BATTLE OF JEMAPPES (Nov. 6th 1792) and occupied the Austrian Netherlands; in the BATTLE OF NEERWINDEN March 18th 1793 the French suffered a defeat and the Austrian Netherlands reverted to Austrian rule. On Sept. 8th the French defeated a British force at HONDSCHOOTE, shortly after a force of the Dutch Republic at MENIN.
Second Phase : Southwestern Germany. In summer 1792 a French army under Custine threatened Frankfurt, but had to withdraw. On Dec. 22nd the French under General Hoche defeated the Prussians at FROSCHWILLER on Dec. 22nd 1793, the Austrians at GEISBERG on Dec. 26th.
Second Phase : Alpine front : Savoy (but not Piedmont) was occupied by French troops in 1792, the Alps now forming the front.
Second Phase : Southern France : Toulon, the fortress which had been handed over to an Anglo-Spanish force by the regional Royalists, was taken by the French on Dec. 19th 1793; here, young NAPOLEON BONAPARTE, a chef de bataillon, gained his first victory.
Third Phase : Low Countries. French forces victorious at TOURCOING (May 18th), HOOGLEDE, FLEURUS (June 26th 1794). The French expelled the Austrians from the Austrian Netherlands; on Jan. 18th 1795, Dutch revolutionaries (with the support of the French Army) proclaim the Batavian Republic. The Low Countries are under French control.
Third Phase : Southwestern Germany : Prussia signed the Peace of Basel May 16th 1795; Prussian (and other German) territories on the left bank of the Rhine were ceded to France.
Third Phase : the sea war : Corsica and the French colonies in the Caribbean were occupied by the British. A British landing force was badly defeated at QUIBERON June 27th 1795.
Fourth Phase : Southern Germany : French and Austrian forces fought each other, the Austrians victorious at AMBERG (August 24th 1796). With Austria having gained only minor victories, an armistice was signed on the German front.
Fourth Phase : Italy. With Napoleon Bonaparte in command of the French troops (45.000), he divided the enemy Piemontese (25,000) and Austrian (35,000) forces (April 1796). When Piemont quit the war (May 1796), the Austrian-held fortress of MANTUA became the bone of contention. Austria brought in fresh forces, and Russian armies appeared on the scene. The French won victories at LONATO (Aug. 3rd), CASTIGLIONE (Aug. 5th), BASSANO (Sept. 8th). The Austrian army under Wurmser moved into Mantua, where it found itself under siege. Attempts by the Austrians and Russians to break the siege failed, the Austrians dsuffering a defeat at RIVOLI Jan. 14th 1797. Mantua surrendered (Feb. 3rd 1797); the French controlled Northern Italy, where several republics were founded replacing the previous principalities. The war was ended with the PEACE OF CAMPO FORMIO (Oct. 18th 1797).

During the war, the VENDEE INSURRECTION (1793-1794, 1795-1796) and the POLISH INSURRECTION (1794) took place.

C.) An Analysis of the War

The coalition was rather weak. Austria showed the strongest resolution to hold out against the French; Spain hardly interfered, the Dutch Republic and Savoy-Piemont succumbed, Prussia left the coalition at a time when it could limit its losses. Britain, protected by 32 km of water, pursued a policy of limited intervention (Hondschoote, Toulon, Quiberon), all of which ended in defeats. Yet, Britannia ruled the waves, and so Britain took control of islands and overseas possessions.
If the coalition forces would prevail, the king resp. his successor would be placed on the throne, the reforms would be cancelled, many revolutionary leaders probably executed. So the French government took a number of radical steps to ensure that they were not defeated - King Louis XVI. was executed (Jan. 1793), later his entire family was executed, the LEVEE EN MASSE was introduced.
Yet the first decisive French victory at Valmy was achieved by a French force outnumbered 2:1 by the coalition force - French srtillery proved to be superior here. Later, the Levee en Masse permitted the French to again and again bring in reinforcements; it was the appearance of such reinforcements which decided the siege of Mantua in 1797.
On the side of the French government, expectations of their generals were extremely high. Of the French commanders, Custine, blamed for military defeats, was guillotined, Houchard too, despite having won both engagements fought under his command. Dumouriez and Pichegru, fearing similar treatment, fled to the enemy in order to avoid the guillotine.

D.) Legacy

Soon further coalition wars followed. The revolution had prevailed in France and expanded into neighbouring territories, but it also had been shaped by the war. During the first phase, Paris being threatened by the invading coalition army, the situation had helped the Jacobins assume power and take drastic steps, introduce the reign of terror. Massacres (in the Vendee) and the threat of the guillotine (French generals) backfired, as the massacres only strengthened the resolution of the rebels to fight on, and as French generals came to distrust their own government. These weaknesses were recognized in France as well, and the Jacobins were overthrown.

The First Coalition, from The Napoleonic Guide
Battles of Neerwinden (1693, 1793) from Jokke's Homepage
La Revolution Francaiase from, chapters 46 onward; detailed, in French
Campaigns, Battles and Events of the French Revolutionary Wars 1789 - 1799, detailed timetable from
Charles Francis Atkinson, French Revolutionary Wars, from Encyclopedia Britannica 1910 edition posted by Xenophon
18 octobre 1797 : Le traite de Campoformio, from Jours d'Histoire, in French
Peter Davis : French Cavalry Defeats Dutch Fleet ? (1795), from Napoleon Series
DOCUMENTS Treaty of Campo Formio, Oct. 27th 1797, from Napoleon Series, in English; from, in French
Preliminaires de paix de Leoben, from (Apr. 17th 1797)

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2001, last revised on November 19th 2004

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